Our Holy Father Pope Francis’ baptismal patron died as a martyr 1,717 years ago today. The emperor Diocletian sentenced George to death, because the saint refused to recant his Christian faith.
The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.
(John 3:35-36, which we read today at Holy Mass.)
During the ensuing century, after St. George’s martyrdom, the persecutions of Christianity by the Roman emperors ceased. In Milan, in AD 313, the emperor Constantine declared Christianity tolerable.
But the fourth century saw tumult within the Church. Tumult the likes of which we could hardly imagine now. The college of bishops convulsed with party factions; the U.S. Senate of today looks like a club of polite, like-minded friends by comparison.
St. John Henry Newman narrated the hugely complicated business in his book, The Arians of the Fourth Century. I highly recommend reading it. To all past, current, and potential seminarians. (Others might find it rough sledding.)
The original faith of the Church needed a word to express itself. Homoousion in Greek, consubstantialem in Latin. With that word, we Christians confess the Incarnation and the Trinity, the essential mysteries of our faith.
Let me put it like this: The Son of God shares in the God-ness of God. To practice religion honestly, man must always divide everything that exists into one of two categories. 1. God. 2. Things created by God out of nothing. The eternal Son falls into Category 1, not 2.
We think of this question as settled forever at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. The Council did settle the question, doctrinally. But not Church-politically.
In ten days, we will keep the anniversary of the death of St. Athanasius. He held fast to the Nicene Creed, through all the internal strife the Church faced in of the fourth century. Newman wrote of Athanasius: “he was the principal instrument, after the Apostles, by which the sacred truths of Christianity have been conveyed and secured to the world.”
Athanasius held fast to the Nicene Creed; he confessed the Trinity and the Incarnation. For his pains, he was excommunicated and exiled five times. All of this after the Council of Nicaea.
The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church survived the fourth century. She continued, full of life, on Her pilgrimage through time. How? She clung with desperate love to Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.